Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Asteroid City

A Reel Leadership Article

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I’m not very familiar with director Wes Anderson’s films. The only film of his other than Asteroid City that I have viewed is the 2009 Fantastic Mr. Fox. That was an enjoyable and unique movie.

Having recently watched Asteroid City, I’ve been left confused and scratching my head. I’m not sure what I watched. From what I gathered, the film is about a famous author and a fictional play he wrote about a grieving father.

The tale weaves in and out of the play, a few intermissions, and an epilogue. 

There are some laughs, an interesting story filled with A-List stars, including Jason Schwartzman, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Hanks, Jeffrey Wright, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, and others, along with a lot of confusion. There are also plenty of leadership lessons in the confusion. We will look at those leadership lessons from Asteroid City in today’s Reel Leadership article.

Steve Carell and Tom Hanks in Asteroid City

Quotes And Leadership Lessons From Asteroid City

1. What makes you unique makes you desirable: 

Asteroid City was unique. There had been a major meteor strike in the small town. It was such a big deal that they changed their name to reflect what happened.

They saw what made them unique. They understood what would attract people to their town. And they played it up.

What makes your business or organization unique? Is there something you do better than anyone else? Play it up.

Your uniqueness will attract people. That’s one of the things author and speaker David Rendall drives home with his Freak Factor book and talks. 

Use your unique freak factor to make others notice and desire you.

2. Previous solutions are not always the current answer:

Augie Steenbeck and his family of four were traveling to his father-in-law’s home. They stopped in Asteroid City due to their car acting up.

The mechanic (Matt Damon) looked the vehicle over. He noticed two things that could be wrong with the car. He was sure it was one of these two issues.

After “repairing” the vehicle, the vehicle broke down completely, even the tires deflated! His previous issues and solutions were not the answer.

There was something new.

We like to rely on our past experiences to solve today’s problems. We understand what we’ve gone through.

However, yesterday’s answers are not always the answers to today’s problems. There are new issues that arise, new questions that need answers, and new solutions that need to be applied.

Don’t stick with yesterday’s solutions because they worked. Look for today’s answers.

3. Stanley Zek (Tom Hanks):

Are you okay?

Stanley was the father of Augie’s deceased wife (Margot Robbie). He was grieving the death of his daughter. So was Augie.

Neither one communicated with one another very well. Stanley had a disdain for his son-in-law. Augie didn’t know how to relate. Thus, they rarely interacted before her death.

Yet, Stanley asked Augie a valuable question. He understood Augie was hurting too. 

Asking your team members if they are okay is okay. You’re checking in on their mental well-being. Something everyone needs.

The more well your team members are, the more well your organization will be. Don’t forget that.

4. You can’t withhold valuable information:

Augie and his wife had four children. They were Woodrow (Jake Ryan), Andromeda (Ella Faris), Pandora (Gracie Faris), and Cassiopeia (Willan Faris). Woodrow was a brilliant child. Andromeda, Pandora, and Cassiopeia were strange girls. Yet, they were loved by a father who didn’t know how to communicate well.

We discover their mother had passed away three weeks before their trip to see Stanley. Since then, Augie had withheld the information that their mother had died.

Could you imagine being these children? Not knowing your mother passed away?


It’s heartbreaking, but we see situations like this in leadership every day. Whether it’s the dangerous financial position your organization is in and you fail to disclose the issue until you close your doors, the firing of a C-Level executive, or changes to wages.

There’s information that your team needs to know. Stop being afraid that they’ll misuse the information. Be willing to lead by sharing the information your team needs.

5. Respect other people’s privacy:

Augie was a war photographer. He didn’t ask for permission to take photos.

One day, he sees Midge Campbell (Scarlett Johansson) and her daughter Dinah (Grace Edwards) eating at a diner. He grabs his camera, frames the scene, and snaps a photograph.

Midge notices Augie taking the photo. She confronts him about his actions. Asked if he always took pictures without permission.

Your people are not your people. They’re autonomous people with rights.

There are boundaries that you shouldn’t and can’t cross. Be aware of your people and their right to privacy and respect.

6. Woodrow Steenbeck:

What do those pulses indicate? 

There was a display at the science center most of the movie takes place. The display had random dots display. Suddenly, the display dots and beeps change. Woodrow noticed the change and asked the question.

There’s a message coming in.

The scientists there didn’t see it or recognize something had changed. Shelly (Sophia Lillis), one of the scientists there, admitted not knowing what they meant.

Woodrow deciphered that the beeps and dots correlated to the date. And then the alien (Jeff Goldblum) arrived.

Are you paying attention to the signs around you? Do you notice what’s changing?

You’ve got warning systems, advanced notifications, and more giving you the information you need to process. Process the data and learn from it.

7. Notice when something significant happens:

The teacher in Asteroid City, June (Maya Hawke), tried to teach her class of students the lesson plan she had planned. She wanted to continue to teach about the solar system and the planets.

Continuing on this path was difficult because of the life and world-altering events of the alien appearing. 

Students began to ask questions related to the alien. They wanted to know what was happening now. June kept redirecting the students’ questions back to the planets.

It was a sad scene. It was an understandable scene. In fact, it’s one I’ve seen played out in classrooms.

I remember when September 11th happened. I went to a college class and the teacher said we were to ignore what was happening in the real world. We had to focus on the class curriculum.

Do you know what that did to me? It turned me off to higher education for a long time. 

Notice and acknowledge when something significant happens. Everyone else knows it. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away, regardless of whether or not you know how to address it.

8. People want to be noticed:

Clifford (Aristou Meehan) was one of the young brainiacs at the Junior Stargazers. He was always challenging people to dare him to do something crazy.

This could be jumping off a roof, eating a spicy pepper, or some other zany stunt. People noticed him…

That’s just what he wanted.

His father, J.J. Kellogg (Liev Schreiber), confronted him about the challenges. He was tired of his son wanting to be dared. That’s when Clifford said he wanted to be noticed.

Your people are just like Clifford. They’re longing to be recognized. They want their existence to be noticed.

Notice your people. You can do this through reward programs, kind notes, and gentle words.

Your people are longing to be noticed. What are you going to do to notice them?

9. Ask for help:

Conrad Earp and Saltzburg Keitel (Willem Dafoe) were in front of Saltzburg’s class of students. Conrad mentioned he wanted to write a sleeping scene.

To do this, he requested the help of Salzburg and his students. They went to work and devised a scene.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’ll get stuck trying to figure out a problem, develop a new idea, or complete a thought.

Including others in your decision-making or idea-generation process will improve your solutions.

10. Dr. Hickenlooper (Tilda Swinton):

Your curiosity is your greatest asset. Trust it.

Dr. Hickenlooper pulled Woodrow away from the rest of the Junior Stargazers to give him a special message. She told him that he needed to stay curious. His curiosity was important.

This meant a lot to Woodrow, who felt odd and disconnected from others.

Leaders, you must cultivate the curiosity of your people. It’s their greatest asset to your team.

Let your people be curious. Encourage it. 

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